Visual impairment is no barrier for Bhopal musician Raju Rao who pursues his calling with a passion  

One hand on the synthesiser, the other on a keyboard, Raju Rao works like a maniac in his home-studio located on the fringes of Bhopal. He is a regular appearance at light music shows here. Not only does he accompany visiting music stars, he also plays and sings solo in marriages and events.

He never leaves an opportunity to make Bhopal hear a new song. Behind his shades are eyes that can’t see, yet behind the lyrics is a heart that never lets his visual impairment come in its way.

I met Mr. Rao one rainy afternoon, as he rehearsed with a couple of fans and collaborators. He rapidly scans sound files using a screen reader. In 10 minutes, he records three samples of a Rabindra Sangeet inspired song. The speed at which he works amazes those of us who have sight. “I used to waste a lot of time going to and coming from studios. One day my wife said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Let’s create a studio today.’ After that there was no turning back,” he says.

He prefers not to talk about his past. He says he learnt the guitar as a child. One day, a priest named Franklin Rodriques heard him and invited him to play in a church somewhere near Bhopal. After that he became a professional. He moved to Bhopal after getting married to Pramila in 1998. He attributes all his success to her.

“There were a lot of difficulties, but when you try and try again you succeed. My wife knew I loved music. She did everything possible to help me in my work.”

Mr. Rao’s big break came in 2010 when he participated in a popular television talent hunt show. “Mumbai is an ocean of music,” he says, “I gained confidence. I began to sing ghazals and sufi music. People liked it. Then my wife asked why I don’t start writing songs. So I started doing lyrics, too. But Mumbai is where I learnt to sing.”

He has performed with noted singers like Ghulam Ali, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Anuradha Paudwal among others. He has also performed for Doordarshan’s Urdu ghazal programming. “It’s been hard to come this far. If I need to go further, I must shift to Mumbai, but my life and family is Bhopal. People have never been rude to me because I am blind. Most often, they don’t know who is playing in the shadows behind the lead singer. Nothing scares me more than an indifferent audience,” says Mr. Rao.